We’re now 33 games deep into this exhibition season after NFL preseason Week 2 concluded Saturday night, and many starters got a chance to shine this weekend in a big way.
Most teams played their starting offenses well into the first half, giving us plenty to digest as we look ahead toward the real dress rehearsal for the regular season in Week 3.
These were the biggest winners and losers from a full slate of preseason games this past weekend.
Winner: Tom Terrific in mid-season form
The New England Patriots desperately missed Tom Brady in the first preseason game, as Brian Hoyer was dreadful in the first half. On Thursday night against the defending champs, Brady was back in action for the first time this year, and it’s like he never left.
Brady played the first half and absolutely shredded Philly’s secondary. He ended up with 172 yards on 19-of-26 passing with two touchdowns and zero interceptions. It’s starting to look like — just maybe — Brady isn’t going to take a step backward in his age-41 season, after all.
Loser: Mason Rudolph takes a step backward
The rookie out of Oklahoma State might one day be ready to take over for Ben Roethlisberger, but that time is not yet upon us. Getting the start Thursday night against the Green Bay Packers, Rudolph showed how green he still is with a performance that can, at best, be described as a learning experience.
Rudolph threw a pick-six on his very first attempt. Veteran Tramon Williams simply watched the rookie’s eyes as Rudolph stared down his receiver, and 25 yards later the Packers had a six-point lead (watch here). When he was pulled in favor of Josh Dobbs, Rudolph had completed just 5-of-12 passes for 47 yards.
Winner: Jake Kumerow continues to shine, avoids major injury
One of the biggest preseason stars in the league right now, Jake Kumerow has been nothing short of brilliant in the first two preseason games for the Packers. The former undrafted receiver caught three passes on Thursday, going for 114 yards and scoring on an 82-yard touchdown. This brings his preseason total up to six catches for 190 yards and two touchdowns, the first of which went for 52 yards in the first preseason game.
Kumerow did suffer a shoulder injury, but the good news is that the injury is not considered serious. That, plus what he’s done so far in training camp and the preseason, likely means this unheralded receiver has probably earned himself a roster spot heading into the 2018 season.
Loser: Lions’ offensive line was a turnstile
We’re not ready to hit the panic button. But my goodness, Detroit’s starting offensive line was a train wreck on Friday against the New York Giants.
Matthew Stafford dropped back to pass seven times in the first quarter before being pulled in favor of Jake Rudock. On those seven plays, he was sacked twice. Additionally, the offensive line couldn’t create running lanes in this game. The Lions ended up gaining a total of 67 yards on 22 carries, the bulk of yardage coming by way of LeGarrette Blount, who churned out 2.9 yards per carry.
It was an ugly showing by a unit that is supposed to be much improved heading into 2018.
Winner: Josh Allen rising
Two things happened Friday evening that could ultimately lead to the Buffalo Bills turning to rookie Josh Allen as the starter right out of the gate in 2018. First off, AJ McCarron was ineffective in the short amount of time he played as the starter against the Browns. Compounding his frustrating night, McCarron reportedly suffered a hairline fracture of the collarbone, which likely means he’s out of the quarterback competition.
After McCarron left the game, Allen was the next man up, and he delivered a performance that will have his coaches beaming. The 60 passing yards doesn’t look like much. But Allen didn’t make mistakes, moved the chains and threw his second touchdown of the preseason on a gorgeous play in which he avoided pressure, kept his eyes on his receivers and delivered a strike (watch here).
Nathan Peterman was solid as the third-string quarterback. But at this point it’s hard to imagine the Bills won’t give Allen a shot to win the starting job in the next two weeks.
Loser: Watch out Cam, because Matt Kalil is (still) awful
It’s been well over a year since it happened, yet still I find my jaw hitting the floor when I consider how much the Carolina Panthers paid Matt Kalil to come over as a free agent last spring.
The former first-round pick out of USC has never lived up to his draft slot, and more often than not he’s a liability in pass protection. Yet here we are, and Kalil is still “protecting” Cam Newton’s blind side. On Friday night, he got beat like a drum going up against Robert Quinn, who racked up two quick sacks and made Kalil look like he was standing still in the process.
Winner: Josh Rosen shines
The Arizona Cardinals are in an enviable position. They have two starting-caliber quarterbacks on their roster, one of whom is No. 10 overall pick Josh Rosen.
After giving Sam Bradford (who was a perfect 6-of-6 Friday night) some reps early, the Cardinals brought in Rosen to work with the first-team offense. He shined, completing 10-of-16 passes for 107 yards and his first career NFL touchdown to fellow rookie Christian Kirk (watch here).
It’s going to be fascinating to see how much more work Rosen gets with the first-team offense this preseason. Even if Bradford starts, at least the Cardinals know Rosen is ready to take over in his absence should an injury take him out.
Loser: Blake Bortles back doing Blake Bortles things
Jacksonville Jaguars fans must have been feeling a bit of nausea creeping in watching Bortles on Saturday on the road against Minnesota. While his final stats show Bortles moved the ball fairly well (12-of-20 for 159 yards), the big issue here is that the former No. 3 overall pick still has moments in which his judgement is terrible.
Bortles got lucky on his first offensive possession when a Vikings defensive back dropped an interception, something that apparently happened quite a bit during joint practices earlier in the week as well. Then he committed a horrible mistake on his next drive, throwing right at safety Harrison Smith, who was not exactly disguising his coverage on the play.
The Jags have a championship-caliber team. But they’ll only go as far as Bortles takes them in the end. Hopefully these mistakes were a case of preseason jitters, but history suggests otherwise.
Winner: Dak Prescott continues to look sharp
Just like we saw in the first preseason game, Prescott was very sharp on Saturday night as the Dallas Cowboys hosted the Cincinnati Bengals. Running the offense without the benefit of Ezekiel Elliott, who likely won’t see a single preseason snap as the ‘Boys protect their top asset, Prescott marched his offense down the field. They Cowboys ran 32 plays on their first three drives, which culminated with 10 points on the scoreboard.
Prescott finished with 86 yards on 10-of-15 passing and threw a dart to Terrance Williams for six points while on the move near the left sideline. While most of the throws Prescott attempted were relatively safe, he didn’t turn the ball over (though he did get lucky on one dangerous pass) and was in full control of the offense.
Loser: Fans who paid big money to attend Raiders vs. Rams game
If you were one of the people who paid good money to watch the Oakland Raiders and Los Angeles Rams play Saturday afternoon, you might just want your money back. Neither franchise played their starters, but don’t blame the teams. Instead, blame the NFL for double-booking them as preseason foes just weeks ahead of a regular-season tilt.
As if that weren’t bad enough, the game itself was (not surprisingly) pretty ugly overall. It’s already frustrating that fans have to pay big money to watch a preseason game to begin with. Then to get there and then be subject to backups and backups of backups the entire game is just adding insult to injury.
Winner: Christian McCaffrey looks ready to dominate league
As we mentioned on Friday night after watching McCaffrey shred the Miami defense, Carolina would be foolish to tempt fate by letting him play another down this preseason.
Showing off his strength, McCaffrey powered through a slight crease early in the first quarter, blasting through a would-be arm tackle before romping 71 yards for six points (watch here). He finished with 120 yards on just nine touches, showing off his entire repertoire in the process.
If McCaffrey can stay healthy this year, then he looks ready to break out as a superstar and featured player in Norv Turner’s offense.
Loser: John Ross continues to make rookie mistakes
The No. 9 overall pick of a year ago was a lost cause in 2017, but he’s shown flashes in camp this summer that he could potentially turn things around in 2018. Unfortunately, he still is struggling to make things happen when it matters most in games.
On Saturday night in Dallas, Ross made two key mistakes that will have his coaches grumbling, if not outright yelling at him. First, on a punt return he failed to field the ball, which bounced inside the five-yard line and backed up the offense in a big way. Then a bit later on in the first half, he dropped a pass that he should have caught, and he’s lucky it didn’t turn into an interception for the Cowboys.
Shortly after this, Jeff Driskel did throw a pick while trying to connect with Ross, who was being smothered by Chidobe Awuzie. This wasn’t Ross’ fault, but it does seem like turnovers happen whenever he’s involved, and Ross continues to be a huge disappointment.
Winner: Jimmy G and Marquise Goodwin are red hot
Last year when Jimmy Garoppolo became the starting quarterback for the San Francisco 49ers, one of the biggest beneficiaries of the switch was Marquise Goodwin. He ended up having a career year, which he parlayed into a nice contract extension this offseason.
Well, the two of them have been making big plays on a nearly daily basis during training camp, and they were on the same page once again Saturday night in Houston against the Texans. Goodwin hauled in a gorgeous deep pass for 40 yards in the first quarter and finished with three receptions for 61 yards. Garoppolo was nearly flawless, though he did throw an interception on his final possession when his slightly overthrown pass went off the fingertips of rookie Dante Pettis and into the arms of Johnson Bademosi.
Overall, however, the 49ers have to be pleased by what they saw from Goodwin, Garoppolo and the first-string offense as a whole.
Loser: Bucs’ first-string offense struggles with Ryan Fitzpatrick
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers are heading into the 2018 season with Ryan Fitzpatrick as the starter due to Jameis Winston’s three-game suspension. While he showed up well in the team’s first preseason game, Fitzpatrick couldn’t find the Fitzmagic whatsoever on Saturday night in Tennessee against the Titans.
The veteran was erratic with his accuracy, finishing with just 46 yards on 5-of-13 passing. He did help the Bucs to use up plenty of clock while he played but they only managed three points, thanks to a 14-play drive sputtering in the red zone.
As if to prove just how much the Bucs will miss Winston when he’s out, he sparkled after taking over for Fitzpatrick. Winston passed for 226 yards and two touchdowns to close out the first half while showing he’s finally got some chemistry with DeSean Jackson.
Winner: Chris Warren III might be Raiders’ second-best running back
While the Raiders were a hot mess overall on Saturday on the road in Los Angeles, one player shined like a supernova. Undrafted rookie Chris Warren III out of Texas, whom we’ve featured before this summer for his exploits in practice, was dominant.
Warren looked like Beast Mode himself out there, trucking defenders and carrying bodies for extra yardage. In the end, he racked up 110 rushing yards on 18 carries and punched in a touchdown near the goal line. At this point, it sure seems like Warren is not only going to make Oakland’s final roster, but he might just be Marshawn Lynch’s backup by the time the regular season rolls around.
Loser: Kirk Cousins had rough home debut for Minnesota
After literally being perfect in his first preseason game with the Minnesota Vikings a week ago, Kirk Cousins had an awful go of it on Saturday at home against the Jacksonville Jaguars.
Cousins was inaccurate on multiple attempts, throwing the ball over the head of one receiver, throwing wide a few times and at one point bouncing a pass in front of his target. It was a miserable showing that saw Cousins finish with just 12 yards on 3-of-8 passing as the Vikings scored just three points on his four possessions.
The Jaguars are a problem for pretty much everyone, so we expect Cousins to bounce back. But Saturday wasn’t his finest moment.
Winner: Trey Burton quickly becoming Mitch Trubisky’s favorite target
The Chicago Bears paid former Philadelphia Eagles tight end Trey Burton a ton of money in free agency this past spring. It’s very early, but so far it looks like that was a very smart investment.
On Saturday night, Burton was clearly the guy Trubisky looked to when he needed a play. The two of the combined on four receptions for 45 yards and a touchdown early against Denver.
Every young quarterback needs a security blanket, and typically tight ends are perfect for this role. Burton appears to be just what Trubisky (who had a pretty stunning hiccup earlier in the game) needs to flourish in Chicago.
Loser: Germain Ifedi continues to get thrashed on the edge
The Seattle Seahawks have struggled to protect quarterback Russell Wilson in recent years. One of the players who’s struggled the most in his duties here is right tackle Germain Ifedi, who somehow continues to keep his spot in the starting lineup despite constantly getting beat.
On Saturday night in Los Angeles, Ifedi was utterly helpless to stop Melvin Ingram from pinning his ears back and chasing after Wilson. Time and time again, Ifedi was the loser in this battle, as Ingram abused him in pretty much every possible way — going over and around him with ease.
At some point, Seattle has to upgrade.